Saturday, 21 July 2007

Angels in America

I finally saw the HBO adaption of Angels in America recently: better late than never. I can see what all the fuss is about, but I must admit that the first chapter did nothing so much as place me in an ill humour. If you're thinking of seeing it, and are neither gay nor Jewish, you may run in to the same problem, but it is worth persevering past the opening instalment. And it helps to know that the original play was subtitled A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.

There are some truly glorious things about this miniseries:

Al Pacino is extraordinary as Roy Cohn --- lively and terrible and unrepentant --- and the illusionless compassion that the play expresses at the death of this monstrous man is quite moving. Much more so than the usual American TV pieties, because more realistic: and I use the term advisedly, not excluding Meryl Streep's appearance as the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg.

Joe and Harper Pitt's misery is taken seriously, and not patronised. Nor is Joe's Mormon matron of a mother.

And Jeffrey Wright as Belize. If you are going to have a designated truth-telling character, and he's going to be a camp black guy, you might as well do it in style.

But I remain unpersuaded about the angels. Like the confectionary old rabbi whose paean to the immigrant struggle opens the play, the angels are a theatrical conceit and they just don't translate convincingly to film. Not to put too fine a point on it: Emma Thompson does a better job of looking numinous when she doesn't have a silly great pair of wings stuck to her back. And as to the discussion in Heaven, and the angel's messages generally ... OK, OK: on one interpretation, these are the hallucination of a fevered AIDS sufferer, so I should probably cut the scenes some slack.

[For those with a New York Times subscription: Alessandra Stanley's reveiw of the HBO miniseries (2003/11/30) and Frank Rich's review of the theatre production, in both parts (1992/11/10) are both worth reading.]

1 comment:

Nick said...

Hi Bruce
I'm not sure it was required of Emma to look numinous. Nonetheless I agree with you about the Al Pacino character. His riposte to his doctor was quite extraordinary - and shows the power of labels.